Dilating Question

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    Dr. Pacik

    I learned a new word yesterday as it relates to vaginismus, the word embarrassment. In an article discussing the use of vaginal dilators following treatment for gynecological cancer women were interviewed to determine how they perceived the need to dilate following radiation treatment (see reference). The psychological and emotional implications that make dilation intrusive were studied. A number of women volunteered that this created embarrassment for them.

    I have been very focused into the fear and anxiety that relate to dilation and have not thought about the potential embarrassment that may be present. The majority of participants were embarrassed because of the perceived sexual nature of the device, seeing this as a sex toy, or dildo, used for erotic pleasure. Comments ranged from “what will people think”, to invasion, and rape. Fear was a common initial reaction. Ladies, please share your thoughts about this. The more we all know the more we understand.

    Reference: Cullen K, Fergus K, DasGupta T, Fitch M, Doyle C, and Adams L. From “sex toy” to intrusive imposition: A qualitative examination of women’s experiences with vaginal dilator use following treatment for gynecological cancer. J Sex Med. 2012;9:1162–1173.


    Hi ladies and Dr. P. This is a very interesting post. I’ve felt embarrassment in the past in relation to my prior vaginismus. I definitely felt very embarrassed in trying to talk to physicians about it as I felt like they were dismissive and didn’t completely understand what I was trying to explain. I also felt embarrassed about discussing it with anyone other than my husband. Post-procedure and once cured from vaginismus, this embarrassment and shyness factor has almost entirely gone away. I feel like the more we all talk about it, the more people will be educated and knowledgeable about the condition. As far as feeling embarrassment about the dilators, I have always done this in the privacy of our home and have found it to be non-embarrassing as it was necessary to stretch the muscles and follow the treatment program. I did, however, feel embarrassed while traveling with dilators as I still find it to be a very personal thing and hate the idea of having to explain it to TSA or others. What have been your experiences here ladies with embarrassment? Again, the more we talk about it, the more people will continue to become educated and knowledgeable about the condition of vaginismus.


    I agree entirely with you, Heather. Embarresment is just as big a factor as anxiety, and the reason that only my husband and best friend know about the condion (which is then coupled with the guilt and awkwardness about keeping something so important from our family, especially when planning such a big trip over from the UK!). I would be highly embaressed if someone had discovered the initial dilators I bought, or even all the lube, and I’m with Heather on the fear of having to explain such things when travelling, and even to doctors. I suppose embaressment is the cause of the ‘wall of silence’ that surrounds the condition, and I hope that when I have ‘overcome’ it it will be easier to tell others about my experiences (as then I will be ‘normal’ again!).


    Yes — I think, for me, one of the most embarrassing “episodes” surrounding my diagnosis came via the nurses and staff at my OB-GYN’s office. They seemed to look at me with incredulity, as if to say, “really? you can’t have sex?” There was this weird hush associated with “my problem.” There is a fine line, I suppose, between shame and embarrassment. I must admit, I had trouble believing that I was the only person in their practice who struggled in this way. At the time, though, the nurse’s look of shock (well, I’ve never heard of such a thinglook at these pictures of babies hanging on the walls…. you do realize you are at an obstetrician’s office, right?) really made me feel isolated. I also felt a heightened need to get this whole muscle spasm thing (for I still did not feel comfortable with the word Vaginismus) under control, and quick! (Looking back, I’m sure that nurse was just trying to be helpful, kind even. But, at the time, embarrassed was exactly how I felt!

    That doctor suggested we order dilators. When they arrived at his office, they were wrapped in a discreet, white box. While this protected my privacy, I also felt very awkward picking them up. (Is this how specialized erotica arrives?, I wondered.) No one at the office was available to offer any additional assistance, nor was my doctor available. So, the staff just glanced at me, and then back at the box, and accepted my check. It felt … uncomfortable (to say the least).

    My friend was with me in the car at the time, and – at that moment – I could not bring myself to disclose what was in this kit. I actually lied, and told her that my husband and I needed some prescription bug/anti-itch medication. I’d like to think that now – post procedure – I would have been more forthcoming….. but hard to fully know.


    Hi all. I wanted to revisit this topic as a recent post discussed the topic of embarrassment surrounding vaginismus. In their excellent replies to this post, Dr. Pacik and Melissa at Maze Women’s Sexual Health wrote “You have nothing to be embarrassed about…you have a medical problem that CAN be treated and you are NOT alone.”

    What are ways we can all overcome the embarrassment factor that so often accompanies vaginismus and talk openly about it without fear?

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